Sola Scriptura

Today’s topic: things that sounded great until afterwards. Here are some actual newspaper headlines that meant well, but went badly. Diana Was Still Alive Hours Before She Died Police Say Man with No Arms and No Legs is Armed and on the Run Bugs Flying Around with Wings are Flying Bugs Homicide Victims Rarely Talk to Police Statistics Show that Teen Pregnancy Drops off Significantly After Age 25 Federal Agents Raid Gun Shop, Find Weapons One of the great doctrines of the Reformation was Sola Scriptura. It sounded like such a good doctrine, but then something went askew. Sola Scriptura says that we are bound, not to councils, traditions or any opinions of men, but only to Scripture. Hence, Sola Scriptura, Scripture Alone. The Westminster Confession of Faith (1:6) says it this way (I’ve underlines the important parts): The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own

Perspicuity Could Be Clearer

Let me be clear, comedian Steven Wright is either very clear or very confusing. At least, I think so. But maybe you better decide for yourself. Here are some well-known Steven Wright questions/queries that I think are clearly important. For instance: “Why isn’t the word ‘phonetically’ spelled with an ‘F’?” “What’s another word for ‘Thesaurus’?” “If people from Poland are called Poles, why aren’t people from Holland called Holes?” “Do Lipton employees take coffee breaks?” “Why are there five syllables in the word monosyllabic?” “How come abbreviated is such a long word?” Let me be clear, The Westminster Confession of Faith’s doctrine of Scripture is either very clear or very confusing. You decide. Here is the Confession’s statement in 1:7: “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all. Yet, those things that are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are

O Come, All Ye Faithful

Let’s start off with a quiz.  What one word ties all eight of these Christmas carols together? And while the obvious answer (and the best guess) might be one of the words, Christmas, Jesus, Christ, God or O, none of these is the word for which I am looking (sorry). Here are the eight carols: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates It Came Upon the Midnight Clear O Little Town of Bethlehem Angels We Have Heard on High Angels, from the Realms of Glory O Come, All Ye Faithful Okay, I’ll admit it. This was a bad quiz, but sometimes bad quizzes make good points (and I hope that is the situation here). In any case, I was struck by the importance of the word “come” in all of these carols. Take a look: In “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,”

Psalm 98

It was a mistake. A naval engineer named Richard Jones was trying to make a large meter that would monitor electrical power on naval ships. As he was working with some tension springs, one of them fell to the ground. It bounced weirdly, first on this end and then on the other, almost as if it was trying to walk. It was a mistake; but as a result, the Slinky was born. It was a mistake. Ruth Wakefield was mixing a batch of cookies when she discovered she was out of baker’s chocolate. As a replacement, she broke sweetened chocolate into pieces and added them to the cookie dough. She thought the chocolate would melt and she would soon be snacking on chocolate cookies; but instead, the pieces remained whole. It was a mistake; but as a result, the chocolate chip cookie was born. It was a mistake. An engineer

Brightest and Best

Let’s play Ranker! Here are ten items. They all describe horrible things that could wake someone up. Rank them from bad (#10) to the very worst (#1): ___ a crying baby ___ an airhorn ___ gun shots ___ the fire alarm ___ kids fighting ___ neighbor mowing their lawn ___ cat coughing up hairballs ___ someone knocking on the front door ___ a neighbor’s car alarm ___ someone vomiting Ranker is a great website, not because they do great journalistic work (because they don’t do anything close to what anyone would call reporting), but because they create controversy. That’s right. Their whole business model is to make statements so that people can fight over it. See, I would argue that a fire alarm is the worst interruption to sleep imaginable, followed closely by someone knocking on the front door. Now, parents, for no good reason whatsoever, would probably argue that

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

You’ve seen all of these, but they are still funny. These are actual signs posted in store windows. In a dry cleaner's emporium: "Drop your pants here." On the side of a garbage truck: "We've got what it takes to take what you've got." On a display of 'You are my one and only' Valentine cards’: "Now available in multi-packs" In a Florida maternity ward: "No children allowed" In the offices of a loan company: "Ask about our plans for owning your home." On a New York convalescent home: "For the sick and tired of the Episcopal Church" Every year, we sing the same Christmas carols; and every year, they’re great!  In fact, some people look forward to the coming of Christmas just because of the Christmas carols. And why not? Christmas carols fill us with feelings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy (and maybe some anticipation and hope

A Faith That Lives in the Bones

A visitor to the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum was deeply engrossed in looking at the bones of a rather large dinosaur. After spending close to 45 minutes looking at them, she broke away and, not seeing any of the museum’s curators, went over to the guard. “They’re amazing, aren’t they?” she said, “Do you have any idea how old they are?” The guard thought for a moment and then said, “They’re 103 million, two years and three months old.” “Wow!” said the visitor, “That’s very precise. How can the museum be so sure?” The guard replied, “The museum gave me a tour when I first started working here and they told me the bones were 103 million years old and that was two years and three months ago.” So far, we’ve presented five of the six stages of faith; and we’ve done so with exacting precision. I wish it was

Straightforward Isn’t Always So Straight

Headlines should be straightforward. When they are not, there is work to do. Take these headlines, for example. See if you can untangle their intended meanings. March planned for Next August Farmer Bill Dies in House Stolen Painting Found by Tree Complaints about NBA Referees Growing Ugly 2 Sisters Reunited After 18 Years at Check-Out Counter Man Minus Ear Waives Hearing Grandmother of Eight Makes Hole in One Lingerie Shipment Hijacked—Thief Gives Police the Slip Hospitals Are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim Faith should be straightforward. When it is not, there is work to be done. That is what happens in Stage 5. Now, I would guess that most people, if they reach stage 4, remain there. After all, it is quite an accomplishment. They have defined their faith, left the comforts of their own community and set out on a course of unknown waters

When You Can’t Just Mail It In

How much are postage stamps these days? My guess is that they cost less than the greatest honor of your life. Let’s go back to 1848. It’s an election year. The issue of slavery is splitting the nation, and everyone is looking for a candidate who will forge a mediating position. Enter Zachary Taylor. Taylor was the perfect choice. He wasn’t a career politician (always a good thing). In fact, he wasn’t even political (even a better thing!). How can I say such a thing? Two reasons. First, he never once voted in any presidential election. That’s not quite true. He voted in one. He voted in 1848 – for himself. Second, any political opinion he did hold was ill-defined and almost incomprehensibly vague.  He was, however, a war hero. And thanks to his exploits in the war with Mexico (a feat that earned him the nickname, “Old Rough and

Warning: It Happens Fast

Let’s play “Famous Firsts”! I’ll give you 10 questions, and you give me 10 (right) answers (or as many as you can!).  Who was the first African-American Supreme Court Justice? Who was the first runner to break the four-minute mile barrier?  Who was the first actor to speak in a “talking picture”?  Who was the first president to appear on TV?  Who was the person who developed the first diesel engine?  Who was the first person to win two Nobel prizes?  What was the first food ever microwaved?  Who was the person who first reached the South Pole AND the North Pole (that’s right, the same person was the first to reach both poles!)?  Who was the first person to reach the summit of Mount Everest? Who was the first pedestrian hit and killed by a car?* About question 10. . . . You’ll have to excuse me for asking

Of States and Stages

I’ve never been to Idaho, and I’m not sure I ever want to go to Idaho; but ho-ho-ho, you never know.  That’s what good stories do; they change our perspective! Here’s the story. Back in the day, the territory around Denver (called the Pike’s Peak mining area) wanted to become a state. But before they could do that, it needed a name. Now, not just any name would do. It had to be a state-worthy name with a nice ring to it. Thankfully, the dull boys at Pike’s Peak mining area didn’t have to come up with a name. A Congressional committee would do that for them. After weeks of deliberation, the committee narrowed the future name of the state down to two finalists. A lobbyist named George Willing had suggested an old Indian word, "Idaho," which meant, “Gem of the Mountain”; and someone else had proposed an incredibly dull

You Can’t Trust George, But You Can Trust. . . .

Fred looks up and sees his friend George walking down the sidewalk towards him and immediately is overcome with bewilderment. “George,” he says, “I heard you had died!” “Hardly,” says George laughing, “As you can see, I am very much alive.” “Impossible,” says Fred, “The person who told me is way more trustworthy and reliable that you!” Think back when we were very young children. No one was more reliable or more trustworthy than our parents. If they said it, we believed it. In fact, they didn’t even need to say anything, we automatically grew up like them. Yes, they taught us things, but we all know we caught far more than they taught. Children are like that. They absorb all sorts of things, including their parents’ faith. In this series, we are talking about the six stages of faith. Stages are distinguishable periods of growth and development that take

Preschool Wasteland

Excuse me, but I need to rant. Recently, I have become extremely frustrated with the River Kid’s Sunday school curriculum for preschoolers. It is more than frustration. It is close to rage. How hard can it be to teach preschoolers? See, we have a holy charge to teach our kids; but instead of fulfilling our obligation to God and to the parents of these kids, our teachers do nothing but share Bible stories with our kids. That’s not quite true. They also sing cutesy songs to them. When did we give in to the spirit of our age? When did we decide that we needed to dumb down our faith? See, I have looked through our curriculum extensively, and I have yet to see one lesson (no not one!) on divine timelessness, unlimited duration and the foreknowledge of God.  Nor has there been one discussion on Modalism, Docetism, Adoptionism or

All the World’s a Stage: An Introduction

Shakespeare was right: all the world IS a stage! Think about all the things in our world that utilize stages. Rockets come in stages. Butterflies come in stages. Even the common cold comes in stages. There are stages in the consumer buying process, in how to buy a home and in how injured toenails grow back. There are stages in how we form our relationships and in how we break-up. There are stages of life, stages of sleep, stages of depression, and stages of labor and delivery. Almost every disease progresses through stages. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross gave us the five stages of grief. Jean Piaget gave us the four stages of cognitive development. Erik Erikson gave us the eight stages of psychosocial development. And Lawrence Kohlberg gave us the six stages of moral development. And I didn’t even mention Prochaska and DiClemente’s six-stage theory of change (but I think I changed

So, Am I a Christian?

Thomas Jefferson had died. He was our third president, our second vice-president, and our first Secretary of State. He wrote the Declaration of Independence and drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. As president, he established the US Military Academy, purchased the Louisiana Territory (doubling the size of the US), and commissioned Lewis and Clark to explore the west. He founded the University of Virginia, made the Library of Congress possible and abolished the international slave trade. He was also a husband and a father of six or more (oh yeah, way more) children. And that is just a quick sample of all the things he accomplished. I know, it’s a pretty impressive list. Now, based on all of this, what do you think should be inscribed on his tombstone? Let’s put this discussion into a context. Søren Kierkegaard, the philosopher, author, and all-around great Dane dictated exactly what he

Jesus and the Committed Life

“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” I’ve used that quote a dozen times to illustrate unrelenting commitment. Here was Edison, the inventor of the electric light bulb, struggling to find a filament that would not burn out after a few illuminating moments. But it was Edison’s perseverance; his commitment to excellence, innovation and light that propelled Edison to carry on, failure after failure. And when he was asked if he was frustrated after trying so many things that did not work, Edison’s response was an encouragement to all of us to endure, regardless of the obstacles in our lives.  Ask anyone for a picture of unwavering, courageous commitment and they will point to Edison, the inventor of the light bulb. Except for one thing: Edison didn’t really invent the lightbulb. Seventy-seven years before Edison (in 1802), an English chemist named Sir Humphry Davy made

Jesus and Wisdom

Some people play music to set the mood. Some look at their mood rings for inspiration. Others adjust the lighting. I hear mod fabrics is even a thing. Some people use candles to set the perfect atmosphere. Me? I tell stories (all three of these stories I found in a Leland Gregory book). 2,300 years ago, the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, looked up into the far reaches of the northern sky. There he saw the constellation Ursa Major. Ursa Major, of course, is, as anyone looking at the constellation can easily see, “the big bear,” even though it may appear at first, second and third, and maybe even fourth glance, in the form of a big dipper. In any case, Aristotle named the land mass under it, “the bear.” He then looked in the opposite direction; and since it was indeed the opposite, he named the land mass to the south,

Jesus and the Sheep

The innocent always suffer. It was 1943; and Great Britain was in the midst of a terrible war, a war they feared they could lose.  But war had not yet reached a tiny remote, uninhabited island off the west coast of Scotland, until it did in a big way. On this day, a group of soldiers brought 80 sheep to the island. But they weren’t actually soldiers, they were scientists. And they had come to this island on a secret, deadly mission. They wanted to see if their anthrax bombs were as lethal as they believed. If they were, the next step was to drop anthrax on German cities. The scientists were wearing cloth overalls, rubber gloves, and gas masks; but that hardly seemed like enough protection. They launched the anthrax by mortar and watched the effects. At first, the sheep showed no signs of infection; but when they did,

Jesus and Justice

Okay, I lied. I gave Columbus the benefit of the doubt in my last post saying it was more likely that Columbus was simply bad at math and not a swindler. Having now read more of the Columbus story, I need to retract that statement. Plain and simple, it is far more likely that Columbus was a crook. If that is too strong, then let me just say, he was a horrible human being.  Consider the evidence. He was a terrible sea captain (half of his voyages ended in dismal failure). He was notoriously cruel (natives who did not bring in a sufficient amount of gold would have their hands cut off). He trafficked in slaves. He and his crew spread disease which almost eradicated the entire Taino population (how do you spell “genocide”?). As governor, he was both utterly corrupt and tyrannical (as a result of his thieving and

Dreaming During the Day

Honestly, the only thing I admire about Christopher Columbus is that he was bad at math. Of all the deficiencies in one’s education, being bad at math is the only one that doesn’t count. For example, Paul Harvey may not have been a great mathematician, but he still was extremely wise. It was Harvey who gave us this truism and tell me you don’t agree with it: "If there is a 50-50 chance that something can go wrong, then 9 times out of 10, it will." Amen and amen. Back to my point: in the 1400’s, navigation depended upon a lot of guesswork. This was primarily because no one knew the circumference of the earth or how to measure latitude. But there were theories. The first theory came from the Greeks. It utilized the Roman mile (roughly 1.47 kilometers). The second theory came from Arabic scholars. Unsurprisingly, it also utilized

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